“Celts” up & down the Alps

Origin and Mobility patterns on both sides of the Alps during the Late Iron Age


degree of human mobility


the links between mobility, kinship, and social organization


genetic history and genetic variation

Summary of the research plan

The genetic history and the degree of mobility characterizing the “Celtic” population during the Late Iron Age (4th -1st century BCE) have become central topics in archaeology and anthropology. However, despite the steady increase of archaeological, biomolecular and biogeochemical studies on central European and British contexts, few data are available for the Northern Italian and Swiss territories.

During the Late Iron Age the geographic areas corresponding to modern Switzerland and Northern Italy played a crucial role in connecting Central and Southern Europe. This connection involved not only forms of cultural transmission (e.g. diffusion of the La Tène material culture), but also the actual movement of people through the Alpine range.

During the Late Iron Age the European area was affected by migrations of different human groups, with southward migratory processes documented historically and by archaeological traces in both Northern and Central Italy. Little is known however about the similarities and differences in genetic variability, mobility patterns, and social organization between the Late Iron Age populations distributed on the two sides of the Alpine range.

The present project aims to address this issue, by means of a multidisciplinary (genetic, and isotopic) analysis of a large skeletal sample representing Late Iron Age populations of modern Switzerland and Northern Italy (Verona) between the 4th -1st centuries BCE.

In particular, the present project aims to:

1) RECONSTRUCT the genetic history and variation of the “Celtic” groups inhabiting the Swiss and Northern Italian areas;

2) ESTIMATE the degree of mobility characterizing these populations;

3) TEST for the presence of relationships between mobility, kinship patterns, and social organization in each area, and the possible similarities and differences in social organization between the Swiss and Northern Italian communities.

Analytical methods will include the study of ancient DNA (aDNA) and of stable isotopes, in conjunction with a quantitative analysis of the archaeological evidence.

By applying a multidisciplinary approach to the study of Late Iron Age populations from Continental Europe, this project will generate new openly-accessible isotopic and genomic data for future studies on Late Iron Age populations from both sides of the Alps.